After the unprofessional and ridiculous e-mail I received from the Burnsville Performing Arts Commission chair, Paul J. Jacques, I decided to pay a bit closer attention to the dealings of this important group.
Based on the agendas and minutes for previous BPAC Commission meetings I must say that I was surprised to see that they have been doing very little and are certainly acting more like aged musicians on tour to pad their early retirement funds rather than acting like the “rock stars” Councilmember Kealey made them out to be.
Now for my very long narrative of the events from tonight (skip to “My Comments” below if you don’t care):
It was interesting to see that Frontier has an advertisement on the wall of the second floor of the BPAC which says Frontier wifi is available “here”. While I found the ad to be gaudy and intrusive the irony was not lost on me when I connected to the “BVGUESTPAC” network and found my IP to be that of a Comcast business class cable connection–not Frontier. Doesn’t say much for their sponsors when VenuWorks doesn’t even use them to provide what they claim they do. Now, I suppose Frontier could be paying for the Comcast connection that powers the building’s wifi but I doubt that’s the case. So who is paying for that connection being that it’s probably not Frontier? Hmmm.
I arrived at the BPAC Commission meeting a bit early and was greeted by Commission Chair Mr. Paul Jacques himself. After a brief introduction which was cut short by the utterance of my last name, he gestured towards a pile of sodas, coffee, bottled (not tap) water and cookies and suggested that I have some if I like. My first question was, “who pays for the pop?” After a questioning motion with his head, as if he didn’t hear me the first time, I asked again and got the reply, “I don’t know.” Well, in my very humble opinion Mr. Jacques, perhaps instead of the majority of ridiculous items which appeared on the agenda tonight, the first order of business would be to find out where money for refreshments at any variety of city meetings which occur at the BPAC, presumably free of BPAC fees, comes from. Because with a operating budget running into the red like you have, you should be looking for cost cutting measures any place you can find them, right?
One of the first orders of new business was discussion/approval of commissioner business cards:
This is something I just do not understand at all. I have worked for the last 10 years of my life and even though they are available to me I just see absolutely no reason why, in this day and age, anyone would need business cards. In a professional setting when I receive a business card I look at it strangely before tucking it into my wallet to throw away later. How would these be any different–especially when they will likely be provided to people who are being begged for money in an economy which has helped to exacerbate the already poor decision to build the BPAC in the first place.
While costs were not discussed at the meeting nor were they provided in the packet I was given, it was mentioned that Burnsville’s City Clerk will be doing edits/changes and design work on them. While I applaud the use of preexisting city resources to develop the business cards, it just baffles me as to why they need to be made in the first place. But that’s coming from someone who’s 31 and has a clue about the contemporary business world.
FOBPAC’s relationship with the BPAC Commission:
A discussion, with a hypothetical donation of $500,000 coming from the Target Corporation was discussed and Chair Jacques suggested how FOBPAC should be the recipient of this money as they are a 501(c)(3). With that in mind the hypothetical corporation would receive the tax benefit that the BPAC Commission/City could not provide. Commissioner David Ulrich suggested that the BPAC Commission create their own 501(c)(3), something which Deputy City Manager Tom Hansen said the city cannot legally do, so that they themselves could direct the dispersal of these funds. Mr. Ulrich was concerned about who would have control over the way the funds were used and inquired about what would happen if FOBPAC was provided the raised monies which group would be the advisory for it. Chair Jacques did not know and said that at a future meeting he will invite along Wayne Huelskoetter, FOBPAC’s President to discuss these issues.
I find the inclusion of FOBPAC in any sort of discussion to be hilarious. Aside from using them for their 501(c)(3) status, that group has shown that they are completely incapable of following through on any of the promises they made prior to the BPAC opening.
MMKR (the company which provided the first BPAC audit):
The reason for the followup was to determine if VenuWorks is now meeting the agreements that they have with the city. According to MMKR, “the initial results keyed in on the lack of specific procedures with regards to the finance procedures at the BPAC. The finance accounting manual needed to be more clear and distinct as to what the procedures are at the BPAC.”
The updated procedures were written and put into place on May 1st, 2010. There were more negative results prior to the updated manual and less afterward thus the MMKR rep focused his discussion more on what happened after May 1st. “Significant progress has been made,” in meeting the prior recommendations. “The staff here at the BPAC has taken our comments and the city’s comments to heart,” and made some changes in the manuals and procedures to cause the systems to improve. “The key to me is that this is a learning process.”
Now what I still want to understand is how a company, which has been in operation for years in numerous states and running many different venues can need so much hand holding to meet the incredibly mundane requirements put forth by the city. The fact that they are still in a “learning process” means that our prior call for VenuWorks to be fired was a valid one–and still is to this day.
The agenda item discussion continued on with other discussions and ended up with the commission members voting (motion: Jacques, second: Pevan), unanimously, to have MMKR do another audit in 2011 for FY2010. This decision was reached without discussion about costs involved–something which I find absolutely insane.
Budget draft for 2011:
A lengthy discussion occurred regarding VenuWorks’ 2011 budget and their general accounting procedures. VenuWorks projected an increase in revenue and a drop in operating costs for 2011 but Commissioner Ulrich pointed out that VenuWorks is expecting revenues of $706,350 and operating expenses of $1,098,730 with personnel costs at $645,204 alone and wanted to know how they could operate with such overhead knowing the revenues won’t match it.
Another discussion occurred regarding the “contributions and public support” figure of $416,000 (general fund tax dollars in addition to the EDA’s $400,000 yearly contribution). The commission members want this to be a line item on the budget so that the numbers even out at the bottom. Chairman Jacques said that he was having a problem understanding VenuWorks accounting practices with his knowledge as a banker and went on to say that, not even in 100 years, would the public be able to understand the numbers provided by the management company.
Discussion moved to how much revenue the BPAC received from advertising dollars put into the 2011 Burnsville Peforming Arts Center Season Guide. VenuWorks mentioned that they farmed this task out to a third party vendor as they had no success in raising the funds themselves in the first year of operations. Commissioner Ulrich mentioned that he believed the $2,000 he put into advertising in the booklet would be going to support the BPAC. VenuWorks went on to argue that even if it wasn’t going directly to their bottom line, it was indeed supporting the BPAC.
Commissioner Rixmann brought up the lack of marketing the BPAC is doing for events and had some questions about how VenuWorks handles this. Jon Elbaum, Executive Director of the BPAC, responded that marketing is left up to the promoter for the event and VenuWorks has nothing to do with it. Chairman Jacques then quotes from the agreement VenuWorks has with the city about how the management company is ultimately responsible for the marketing of the facility to which they replied, “yes, marketing for the facility,” implying that they are doing just that. Unfortunately as noted by Commissioner Bishop, few people in Burnsville even know the facility exists and thus VenuWorks has not met its contractual mandate there either.
Chairman Jacques then brought up the incentives VenuWorks would be given provided they meet certain minimums. He then asked for them to discuss amongst themselves whether a reverse incentive would be acceptable to them if they continue to miss their revenue projections. VenuWorks’ staff nodded that they would look into it. This is something similar to what Grand Forks did when they forced VenuWorks to refund their service feeds for 2008 and 2009 due to poor performance over the prior 5+ years. Unfortunately Chairman Jacques didn’t push it far enough in my opinion.
1. I was not at all impressed with any members of the BPAC Commission present at last night’s meeting. Chairman Jacques was by far the most talkative and direct but his demeanor was unprofessional, cocky, and condescending. While I have no good things to say about VenuWorks, I don’t think that they should be treated the way he was treating them last night.
2. Jon Elbaum, Executive Director of the BPAC, is in way over his head. He is meek, uninformed, and cannot carry on an intelligent conversation under pressure. He should not be the director of a $20/year lemonade stand, let alone a $20 million facility which is running itself further into the ground with each passing day. His answers were shaky and many times he seemed unsure that what he was saying was even true. The simple fact that VenuWorks’ corporate offices felt that he was a viable director shows their lack of faith in the BPAC and is just further proof that they need to be removed immediately.
3. The BPAC Commission is wasting an awful lot of time getting background on an operation which is clearly not going to be successful. They have proven this with Grand Forks and the last year in Burnsville. Instead of wasting time with asking VenuWorks for information they should be consulting with Grand Forks’ the city and the commission to see what they need to do. In addition they need to start looking for alternatives to VenuWorks right now so that when it finally becomes obvious to the commission, as it has to those of us who have been following this from the start, that VenuWorks is ill equipped to handle the BPAC, that they can replace them without further delay.
So what do you think about the BPAC Commission meeting? Do you think that they are moving too slowly? What do you believe their priorities should be at this stage of the game? How about VenuWorks themselves? Based on the second audit results and their responses to the commission’s questions do you believe they’ll ever recover the losses incurred? Whatever you have to say go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.